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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

What We Learn From Black- and Women-Led Cooperative Practice

The Japanese government encouraged the development of cooperatives beginning in the early twentieth century. At times, the state closely controlled cooperatives, particularly in agriculture, in order to ensure food supplies during wartime. Even today, questions remain about the autonomy of the cooperative sector at large, given the direct involvement of the state in the economy and many civil society activities. Nevertheless, the organizing and advocacy of the cooperative societies themselves have given them influence over public policy.

Though formal cooperation has a long history in Japan, the rise of today’s consumer cooperatives commenced in the aftermath of World War II. Their focus on peacebuilding and quality of life set Japanese cooperatives apart from those in other national contexts, drawing on a legacy of collectivism with deep roots in Japanese culture. Cooperatives’ role in food security after the war led to their ongoing concern for fair prices and high-quality goods, echoing the concerns of the Rochdale Pioneers during the Industrial Revolution. The culture of cooperation in the 1950s and beyond was based on a unique cultural concept: the han, or small group buying club. Originally composed of women homeworkers, the han provided social strength and unity at a local level. Each han makes group orders for consumer products and pays as a group, garnering lower prices. But the han is more than just a group purchasing scheme. Each han elects a representative to send to a regional council and, ultimately, a national body that guides decisions about products and works directly with producers. The heyday of the han occurred from the 1960s to the 1990s, before the delivery of products to individual members’ homes and many women entering the workforce. Nevertheless, the system persists and continues to affect food prices and quality through democratic participation.

Read the rest at Next City


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